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He looked at me carefully as a scout considers a stranger—not as a menial should lift his eyes to his divinely appointed superior. “I wonder why,” he said just above the breath that he drew.

This is from "They" by Rudyard Kipling.
http://www.telelib.com/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/prose/TrafficsDiscoveries/they.html

I don't understand the meaning of---
he said just above the breath that he drew.

I am glad if someone would kindly teach me.

1 Answer 1

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A more common version of the idiom is to say something “just below one’s breath,” which means that you grumble something to express frustration but quietly enough that no one will know.

So “just above one’s breath” would mean “barely audible.” Other people heard it, but just barely.

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    Thank you so much for your answer! It is so helpful. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 3:47
  • I agree with you but it's worth pointing out that Kipling was playing with and extending the idiomatic phrase 'under his breath' rather than using an existing phrase meaning 'just audible'
    – BoldBen
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 3:48

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